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The mission of the Political Theory Project (PTP) is to investigate the ideas and institutions that might make societies free, prosperous, and fair. The PTP pursues this mission within the broad research paradigm of what we call market democracy. Born amidst the enlightenment, the rise of democratic ideas and institutions coincided with a dramatic increase in personal freedom and economic prosperity (what the economic historian Dierdre McCloskey has called the “Great Enrichment).” The question of how market economies interact with democratic ideals is at the heart of the PTP’s research mission.

The market democratic paradigm has five main components, all of which are tightly integrated. The main components of market democracy include: democracy, markets, rule of law, knowledge sharing, and a participatory ideal of inclusion.

First, market democracies are fundamentally committed to a participatory ideal of inclusion.  According to this ideal, the voice and well being of each person matters, and matters equally. The PTP has a special interest in institutions and norms that have a proven record of creating a more participatory and inclusive society.

Second, as the name “market democracy” implies, market democracies are committed to both democracy and markets. By democracy, we mean a community of free individuals who jointly determine the rules and institutions that are to guide them. By markets, in this context, we mean the democratic enactment of the idea that economic sectors of production are undergirded by rights of private property and contractual freedom. Working together, these institutions seek to create social conditions in which citizens can trade, create social wealth, and pursue their own conception of the good life in a stable and inclusive environment.

Next, market democracies are committed to the rule of law. This includes the idea that individuals must be accorded equal treatment as free individuals. Market democracies, in their various ways, see individuals as holding strong claims of personal liberty (what the philosopher John Rawls has called “spheres of inviolability”). Among these liberties are freedom of the person, freedom of association, economic liberty, and freedom of inquiry and expression.

This last right, freedom of expression, plays a special role within the research approach of the PTP, as it has within the governing structures of market democratic regimes. At the PTP, we aim to foster a culture of critical engagement and scientific self-challenge. Like technologies, ideas improve through contact with new and even rival ideas. Michael Polanyi has used the term “a republic of science” to describe the development of ordinary science. According to Polanyi, scientists advance the frontiers of human understanding by sharing knowledge. Science advances when scholars are free to choose their own research agendas, and conduct their research in full view of the broader community. The PTP aspires to be a republic of science in this sense. We bring together dynamic, self-directing scholars to study aspects of market democracy through a variety of disciplinary, methodological, and ideological lenses.

Research questions of the PTP include:

What are the ideas and institutions that make societies more free, prosperous, and fair?

What causal explanations account for the historical co-development of advanced market economies and inclusive democratic polities?

How do market economies and democratic governments interact and shape social outcomes?

How significantly are contemporary distributions of wealth shaped by historical injustice?

Can emerging economies develop in ways that are just, equitable, and ecologically sustainable?

Can economic science inform our understandings of politics and governance?

What are the moral implications of trade and global economic growth?

How do the findings of social science and institutional operations shape our moral theories of governance and politics?

What are the moral and practical limitations of democracies and markets?